1:00 PM ET, January 1, 2011
Raymond James Stadium, TAMPA, FL
1:00 PM ET, January 1, 2011
Raymond James Stadium, TAMPA, FL
He has won two consensus national championships and become the face of one of college football's elite programs, but shortly after the end of the regular season decided to step down with his health in question.
That might someday be the perfect depiction of Joe Paterno. Right now, it describes Urban Meyer.
The 46-year-old Meyer will call it quits after leading Florida in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, when Paterno -- who plans to return for a 46th season on the sidelines at Penn State -- looks to add to his record 24 postseason victories.
Rumors of retirement have swirled around the 84-year-old Paterno for years, but the all-time leader in wins among FBS coaches confirmed days before the Nittany Lions (7-5) lost their season finale to Michigan State that he doesn't plan on going anywhere.
Meyer's tenure with the Gators (7-5), meanwhile, appeared to be over on Dec. 26, 2009, when he announced his resignation following a medical scare. But just one day later, Meyer changed his mind, saying he was merely taking a leave of absence.
He was back before spring practice, but after a rare rebuilding season in Gainesville, he's gone again. Meyer announced on Dec. 8, with his family by his side, that he would step down following the Outback Bowl.
"At the end of the day, I'm very convinced that you're going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won," Meyer said.
"Last year was a knee-jerk reaction. This year was just completely different."
On Dec. 11, though, a report surfaced that Meyer's resignation had plenty to do with his health. A source said that Meyer has a recurring burning sensation in his chest that doctors told him would raise cardiovascular risk factors if he continued to coach.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley didn't waste any time finding Meyer's replacement. The same night of the report regarding Meyer's health, Foley handed Will Muschamp -- Texas' defensive coordinator and heir apparent to Mack Brown -- his first head coaching job.
Muschamp is no stranger to Florida or the SEC. He spent 10 years in Gainesville growing up, then was an assistant at Auburn and LSU over the past decade.
For now, though, the Gators will take the field under Meyer one last time against Paterno, who's been leading Penn State on fall Saturdays since Meyer was in diapers.
"I almost laughed when I heard that (Meyer) was retiring," Nittany Lions guard Stefen Wisniewski said. "Our coach is (84), and our coach wants to come back."
Both Meyer and Paterno own a pair of national championships, with Meyer's seemingly instant turnaround in Gainesville after Ron Zook's three mediocre seasons serving as one of the nation's more impressive accomplishments in the past decade.
Paterno called Meyer "one of the great coaches of the last 25 years," a classification that certainly includes Penn State's bespectacled leader. Paterno will coach in his 25th New Year's Day bowl game, the most recent a 19-17 win over LSU in the 2010 Capital One Bowl.
"He is a great friend and he's a guy I have admired since I got into coaching because he does it right," Meyer said of Paterno. "I spend every second I can with him when I'm in the same place as him. I've studied (him). I take a notebook every time I'm with him."
The Gators have beaten the Nittany Lions twice on New Year's Day in their only meetings, including a 21-6 win in the 1998 Citrus Bowl.
Meyer may not want to be defined by his success in bowl games, but he's made it awfully tough to ignore. He was 2-0 in the postseason at Utah and is 4-1 at Florida, including four BCS victories.
Meyer and Paterno's programs rank fourth and 12th, respectively, in wins since 2005, but there were also plenty of similarities this season between two teams that couldn't achieve top-tier status due to their struggling offenses.
With Tim Tebow gone, Florida finished 10th in the SEC in total yards (356.8 per game) -- more than 100 fewer than it averaged in 2009.
Penn State, meanwhile, finished ninth in the Big Ten in points per game (24.6). Freshman Robert Bolden threw five touchdowns in seven games before being replaced by sophomore Matt McGloin, who tossed 13 TDs the rest of the way.
The Gators began the season with John Brantley under center, but freshmen Jordan Reed and Trey Burton later saw time running Meyer's familiar spread option formation. Brantley only threw nine touchdown passes in 12 games and finished 87th nationally in pass efficiency.
The offense especially sputtered toward season's end, turning the ball over six times and averaging 251.0 yards in Florida's last two games against FBS opponents, losses to South Carolina and Florida State by a combined 67-21.
"It's been tough," Brantley said after a 31-7 loss to the Seminoles. "You never hope for a season like this. Things happen, and we've stuck together throughout it all."
Florida will be without cornerback Janoris Jenkins in this game. Jenkins had surgery on his right shoulder recently, while right tackle Maurice Hurt (right knee) and defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh (right hip) and Terron Sanders (right shoulder) also will sit out.
Jenkins has started all 11 games this season. He has eight career interceptions, including three this season. Moses Jenkins or Cody Riggs likely will start in his place.
The Gators may also be without defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who was treated and released from a hospital Tuesday after suffering from gastritis. Austin joined the Gators this season after spending the previous seven in the NFL as a defensive backs coach.
Florida is 1-2 in the Outback Bowl, while Penn State -- 3-0 previously -- will attempt to be the first school with four wins in the Tampa game.
Both teams had middling seasons, but the coaching matchup is top-notch. Penn State's Joe Paterno owns a record 24 bowl victories, while Florida's Urban Meyer boasts two national titles and a 6-1 mark in postseason play, including a win in the 2006 Outback Bowl. Nine of the teams' 10 combined losses came against ranked opponents. -- Adam Rittenberg
Penn State will face a big challenge against the team speed of Florida in the Outback Bowl.
|Avg Points Allowed||21.3||23.7|
Urban Meyer is stepping down after the Outback Bowl at age 46. Here's a look at the numbers had Joe Paterno, now 84, quit at age 46.[+]
Coaching Careers at Age 46
ESPN Stats & Information